Royal Mail referred to regulator over letter delivery
A committee of MPs has referred Royal Mail to regulator Ofcom for breaching its requirement to deliver letters across the country six days a week.
In a strongly worded report, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee said the company had “systematically failed to deliver” the so-called universal service obligation.
The committee also said Royal Mail chief executive Simon Thompson was “not wholly accurate” in answers he gave to MPs on the use of technology to track and discipline workers.
“Royal Mail denied having any knowledge of the tracking of postal workers using technology and said evidence of this practice, and of managers disciplining postal workers using such data, was due to non-compliance with Royal Mail policy,” said the committee.
MPs said they “did not believe that such widespread errors could happen without direct or indirect approval of management.”
MPs urged the Royal Mail’s board to review management of the firm on grounds of “negligence” if they knew nothing about the practices.
The report called on the information commissioner to check the legal basis for the collection and use of this data.
The committee said Royal Mail “systemically failed to deliver” parts of its USO, citing “widespread evidence of the company’s deprioritisation of letters over parcels”.
The MPs called on the postal services regulator, Ofcom, to open an enforcement investigation into Royal Mail’s USO delivery, engaging with postal workers, and to report back by the end of the year.
Committee chairman Darren Jones said: “I find it hard to believe that such widespread breaches of company policy and legal obligations are down to a national network of rogue workers conspiring against management at Royal Mail.
“We were inundated with evidence from postal workers challenging the accuracy of answers given by Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson.
“Frankly, the failures in company policy which Mr Thompson has admitted to can only be due to either an unacceptable level of incompetence or an unacceptable level of cluelessness about what is happening at Royal Mail.
“Hiding behind the pandemic as a driving factor in failures at Royal Mail does not cut it.
“Ofcom must start enforcement proceedings to ensure everyone gets a consistent service wherever they are. Otherwise, what’s the point in having a universal service obligation at all?”
The committee said Royal Mail was going through “troubled times”, adding: “It reported last year that it was losing £1 million per day, it is in the midst of a bitter industrial dispute with its workforce and we believe that Royal Mail is failing to meet some of its statutory requirements under the USO.
“When we explored these issues with Royal Mail’s senior management, our concerns were not allayed, in fact they grew.
“Some of the statements made by the chief executive officer during oral evidence provoked a huge response from postal workers, who contacted the Committee directly, claiming that the Committee had been misled.
“We therefore took the very unusual step of recalling Royal Mail in order to clarify or correct the public record.”
A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “Royal Mail is proud to deliver the universal service, and our policies are clear that parcels and letters should be treated with equal importance.
“We have informed the committee that we will be reviewing the consistent application of our policies regarding the delivery of letters and parcels across the business.
“We will share our findings with the committee and Ofcom. We have asked the committee to share the material they have received, and reiterate again our request for them to do that at the earliest opportunity so it can help inform that review.
“Royal Mail answered in detail the questions asked by the committee – in person and in correspondence – about the company’s performance, finances and service delivery.
“We reject the suggestion that Royal Mail may have misled the BEIS Select Committee in that process.”
Communication Workers Union general secretary Dave Ward said: “The report vindicates why the workforce have lost total confidence in CEO Simon Thompson and his senior leadership appointees.
“Their mantra of ‘our business to run’ has seen a vicious and unprecedented level of attacks on postal workers and the service they provide.
“The deliberate running down of the universal service obligation has actually worsened, not improved, since the Select Committee.
“Although the Board have now intervened in the dispute and talks continue with direct Board involvement, the stark reality is, if we reach an agreement, there is no prospect of taking the workforce with us unless there is a change of attitude and personnel within the senior leadership of the company.”